Man with disability at work

New Report: People With Disabilities in the U.S. Experienced Greater Employment Gains in 2023 Than People Without Disabilities

Employment for people with disabilities reached unprecedented milestones in 2023, continuing a remarkable trend. This achievement stands in stark contrast to the experiences of people without disabilities, who faced a more severe employment decline during the COVID-19 pandemic and a slower recovery.

That’s according to the National Trends in Disability Employment 2023 Year-End Special Edition, issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Reports.

The sustained surge in employment for people with disabilities could be due to a number of things. This includes the fact that working from home became more accepted during and after the pandemic.

“The pandemic played a crucial role in popularizing remote work, emphasizing the necessity to enhance accommodations not only for employees with COVID, but also for individuals with other disabling conditions,” John O’Neill, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at the Kessler Foundation, said in a statement.

Employment-to-Population Ratio: 2009 – 2023

This 2009 – 2023 data chart compares the average monthly employment-to-population ratio for people with and without disabilities prior to the Great Recession, through the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recovery, and through December 2023. The employment-to-population ratio reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).

Image credit: Kessler Foundation.

While the average monthly employment-to-population ratio increased in 2023 for both people with and without disabilities (ages 16-64), people with disabilities enjoyed a far larger uptick.

The average monthly employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities reached a new all-time high in 2023 at 37.1%, besting the previous record of 34.8% in 2022. The 2022 figure exceeded the prior peak of 31.3% in 2021, and even exceeded the pre-pandemic level of 30.9% in 2019.

In contrast, the average monthly employment-to-population ratio of people without disabilities increased from 74.4% in 2022 to 75.0% in 2023, finally surpassing the pre-pandemic level of 74.6% in 2019.

Although this is encouraging news, overall employment and higher education levels for people with disabilities continue to significantly lag those of people without disabilities. There’s still a long way to go toward achieving equality.

Changing Employer Practices

O’Neil said that major changes in employer practices over the past several years may have contributed to recent employment gains for people with disabilities.

“The use of flexible work arrangements more than doubled from 2017, with most supervisors predicting that work-from-home options would continue post-pandemic,” he said. “And today, twice as many supervisors work for organizations with a central accommodation fund, which incentivizes hiring and supports the success of people with disabilities in the workplace.”

Because that hiring and training new staff can be costly, employers came to appreciate the advantages of providing accommodations, including for employees with COVID and long COVID. “This led to a greater emphasis on providing accommodations not only for COVID-related cases, but also for individuals with other disabling conditions,” O’Neill said.

Employers also started using disability organizations for recruiting, training supervisors on accessible applications and interviewing techniques, and auditing hiring procedures for accessibility. In addition, more employers began offering job sharing and training on disability issues.

“This environment creates new job opportunities, often closer to home, making it more appealing for individuals with disabilities to enter the labor force. Achieving these higher levels of employment requires the synergy of both labor demand and labor supply factors,” said Andrew Houtenville, professor of economics at UNH and research director of the IOD. “The expansion of work-from-home possibilities and the greater adaptability in work hours observed during the pandemic’s peak could have potentially paved the way for lasting job opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Source: Unprecedented Success Continues: 2023 Employment Gains for People with Disabilities Outshine Those of Counterparts Without Disabilities

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